Concerns haunt fans ahead of Qatar's hosting of football event

Worried about workers' conditions in Qatar, Liverpool has refused to stay at a Doha hotel suspected of “operating in breach of labour laws."
Wednesday 06/11/2019
Delegates display red cards with the words 'Show Qatar the Red Card' as they demonstrate their support for better working conditions for worker sahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar,  in Liverpool, north-west England, on September 10, 2014. (AFP)
Delegates display red cards with the words 'Show Qatar the Red Card' as they demonstrate their support for better working conditions for worker sahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, in Liverpool, north-west England, on September 10, 2014. (AFP)

LONDON - As Qatar prepares to host the FIFA Club World Cup next month, it is receiving the type of attention it does not want. 

Concerns by fans and managers of Liverpool FC, one the major squads scheduled to take part in the tournament, about Qatar’s alleged labour violations and human rights record have sparked a wary debate over the conditions of the seven-team event.

Worried about workers' conditions in Qatar, Liverpool has refused to stay at a Doha hotel suspected of “operating in breach of labour laws and earning salaries below the minimum wage.”

An October 2018 report by The Guardian alleged that the migrant workers employed by the Marsa Malaz Kempinski hotel where Liverpool was to be accommodated were inadequately paid, in breach of labour laws.

Liverpool informed the world football body FIFA it was relocating to another hotel, "under the terms of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act and adhering to the anti-slavery and human trafficking guidelines.”

Liverpool will play a semi-final game in Doha on December 18 and could play a playoff game on December 21.

Allegations of foreign labour abuse in the construction of stadiums and other sports venues in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup have plagued Doha. Authorities have pledged to reform the country’s laws and regulations ensure better treatment of foreign workers, but not all critics are convinced. 

Liverpool FC management and fans organisations, concerned about the labour violations, have held intensive talks with international labour and human rights groups to seek information and advice.

"The fact the tournament has been awarded to a country where migrant workers’ rights and LGBT+ fans rights are not respected is a really massive concern," said Paul Amann of Kop Outs, a Liverpool FC supporters group.

Jay McKenna, a Liverpool fan, was quoted by British newspapers as saying: "This isn't just a football tournament. Everyone’s going to pack up and go after four, five or six weeks in Qatar. Those stadiums are going to be left and they’re going to be the graveyards of many workers. Those families back in Nepal or wherever, what are they going to be left with?"

Also worrisome to Liverpool FF fans are the risks that come with visiting a deeply conservative country that may not respect their personal freedoms.  

The issue is also of concern to British authorities who do not want to end up bailing out Liverpool fans if they are locked up in Doha.

Ironically, travel notices put out by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)  and Liverpool FC organisations ahead of the tournament stirred more concern than reassurance among fans .

Information posted by UK government websites and relayed by fan organisations cautioned supporters that "women should ensure shoulders and knees are covered in public” and warned that "any intimacy in public may lead to arrest." Couples "may be asked to provide marriage certificates when checking into their hotel,” the notice said.  

The warnings also broadly stated that "certain behaviour considered normal in the UK may cause offence in Qatar (e.g. foul language, offensive gestures) and may result in arrest.”

LGBT groups were particularly alarmed because "homosexual behaviour is illegal in Qatar" and can lead to prosecution, according to the UK government and human rights groups.

"I want to hear from ILGA and other LGBT+ rights organisations about LGBT+ people in the country and visiting the country," said Amann.

Qatar, concerned that bad publicity could cast a dark cloud over the high-stakes event and impact its prospects of hosting future sports events and accommodating foreign tourists and investors, has attempted to reassure fans they will be welcome during their stay.